Perennial amaranthus?!? O_o

I found out about this by pure chance

This species is called amaranthus deflexus (due to its creeping / recumbent habit) and is actually a short lived perennial, surviving the winter through its rhizome.

This is quite unexpected, well... I've noticed this plant before, but due to its small seeds size, its scarce productivity and small size I never considered it really worth investigating. It's not even listed on pfaf.org.
This rhizome thing, however, is most interesting.

Would it be possible to cross it with other amaranths? If the resulting hybrid is able to grow a rhizome and be more productive, then it will be worth giving it a try!

For now, I've collected some seeds.. I read they are dormant, will sow them next year. If I manage to dig a small plant from a roadside, however, I'll be more than happy to try and overwinter it! :D


To say this was ttally unexpected would be a blatant lie, so let's say I expected this to happen :p

One thing I notices from my amaranthus caudatus tests last is that when the seed heads are forming the plants tend to become recumbent so they should be supported.
However I hoped I could avoid additional work by growing them at a high enough density.
Amaranthus caudatus plants sown this spring in the crowded plot mantained a thin but robust stem and did perfectly fine.
The second crop sown at the beginning of august on the other hand grew exceptionally fast and with thick watery stems.. and then a stom with strong winds cames and here's the outcome:

about 50% of the plants had been knocked down by the strong winds. The soil softened by by the rain didn't help at all. This soil is exceptionally fertile, so it encouraged excessive plant growth.. the plant outgrew beyond what their roots could sustain and high fertility actually turned out to be a very bad thing!

I actually expected it to be much worse than this.. and I also managed, thanks to poles and ropes, to pull back up half of the fallen plants thus reducing the damage to ~25%.

Seeing this disaster, my conclusions are as follows: crowding only works partially, the greatest advantage is that it minimizes weed growth.
Some kind of support is still needed, i.e. rows of poles spaced about 1m apart with strings at a height of about 70cm ~ 1m.
If the soil is moderately fertile, crowding is ok, otherwise sow in rows.

Now then, the plants are still flowering. I hope the seeds will ripen before the first frost comes!

If they manage to produce, drying the seeds will be a real problem :p


digitaria sanguinalis: the (nearly) last immortal

See this?

this is a specimen of Digitaria Sanguinalis I uprooted almost one month ago. I've spent countless hours trying to eradicate this species and setaria viridis from my plots and this particular one was looking dried beyond any hope of recovery.

All it took was a day of rain, then the resurrection strategy of digitaria kicked in: high speed total regeneration at each node!
Wherever a node was touching the ground it developed roots too.

This goes beyond amazing, this plant really has been forged under the unforgiving anvil of survival!!
I felt the urge to look it up over pfaf.org and find more.
To my surprise I found it is still cultivated in eastern europe for human consumption and produces large amounts of grain for a wild species. Moreover, the flour made from its seeds is white, nutritious and keeps very well.
As for its drought resistance and ability to survive the worsts conditions while still reliably delivering grain, the picture above says it all.

I decided it was time to gather some seed, first of all let's say they taste good even uncooked.

It seems collecting grain from this grass is pretty simple, this is what I got within 2 minutes of picking the best plants:

Of course I plan to pick much more and sow a nice big plot for next year.
I absolutely need to evaluate the yield from this grass since it can be a fine source of gluten, useful for making bread and cakes.

It has disproportionately large roots which allow it to compete against other grasses faster and more efficiently, it is a C4 plant and is allelopathic.
Its ability to self sow through the winter and resist drought is fundamental, that's why I'm interested in it even if it's an annual!


Chenopodium pallidicaule trials

So I finally managed to grab a few chenopodium pallidicaule seeds, there we go:

These seeds look awfully like chenopodium album seeds, so why bother with them?
Because they are said to be extremely nutritious? Like if I mind, then so is C. Album.
Because they are easy to grow and tend to self sow? Bah, C. Album is a full weed too.
Then why?
Well, this pallidicaule should have some remarkable properties on the frost resistance side: it should be able to stand -3C frosts while flowering and can generally survive brief frosts down to -8C or even -10C and seeds mature at 15C.
Given these properties, sowing at the beginning of february might be feasible.

On the hot side, 25-28C is said to be the maximum temperature and this contitutes a strong limitation.
Also, C. pallidicaule seems to require strong light, that's another limitation.

The seeds should have a dormancy of a few weeks and this should prevent them from germinating like quinoa, directly on the plant.

 All of this is practically non-verified, I need to check if it's true.

Last year I've witnessed C. Album survive deep frosts and a snow cover, I need to compare its behaviour with C. Pallidicaule.

 Today I'm sowing a first batch of seeds in order to multiply what I've got.

Edit: I haven't sown it yet. Still too hot, it might compromise the seedlings. I think I'll sow this sunday.


I find your lack of dormancy disturbing

Disaster and quinoa.

Yes, they go along well.

I discovered 12-24 hours of intermittent rain are more than enough to germinate mature quinoa seeds directly on the plant. Actually problems rose on one plant so far, but I have reason to believe it will get worse.
I understand it never rains in Bolivia's harvesting season, otherwise their quinoa crops would be gone withing half a day.

It really seems, like if I needed further confirmations, that quinoa will never do well out of its native climate.
The sad thing is I can't afford to entrust my life on weather forecasts or harvest a whole plot of quinoa right before it rains. I think the seeds I saved are the seeds I'll resow next year and the long season strains may go to hell if they won't survive this moist period.
Dear quinoa, I find your lack of seed dormancy disturbing.

Why this sudden turn of events?
Mostly because I now possess two very important pieces of information:

a) I've found chenopodium album's seed aminoacid composition

b) I've managed to find chenopodium pallidicaule seeds and a somewhat detailed description of its behaviour.

given these, I think I could probably discard quinoa. More to follow.

extractable oil contents of some wild species seeds

Speaking of oil, oils come pretty handy in times of servicing engines, generators and other machines.
Unfortunately most commercially availables oils either come from tropical plants unsuitable for temperate mid to high latitude zones, or the plants require too much energy and time to be of any use to me.

There are quite a lot of plants in the wild which can be useful for this purpose and even yield oil good for cooking (and lighting!), here are the results of some preliminary research:

name: oil content % / protein content %

chenopodium album: ~8.5-9% / ~16-17%
setaria viridis: ~6-7% / ~15%
sinapis arvensis: ~35-38% / ~`24%
amaranthus spp: ~4-8% / ~15%

It seems wild cruciferae are the most promising species, C. album is on the low end and lepidium sativum stands at an intermediate place (~22% oil).

From this same reasearch, I've found a pretty good analysis of the aminoacid contents of chenopodium album and amaranthus retroflexus: this data, once properly formatted will be the subject of a dedicated post!

Garden cress galore!

My garden cress, aka lepidium sativum has lived up to my expectations and beyond.

What is more important, garden cress wasn't affected at all by pests.

This is the yield of ~3m^2 of cress, more than a Kg of seeds:

Recovery of seeds is easy and pretty efficient: step over the plants with thick socks, remove the stalks and use a sieve to separate seeds from most chaff. The rest can be blown away by winnowing.

They are pretty nutritious, but their greatest value I think lies in the oil content, up to 22% in weight. The oil composition in term of fatty acids is mostly oleic acid (~30.6%) and linolenic acid (~29.3%), erucic acid is present and can be used for lighting and cooking. Gamma and delta tocopherols are present at ~1422ppm and ~356ppm respectively (relatively high concentrations).

Another source (http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=22574870) shows this:

alpha linolenic acid 34%
oleic acid ~22%
linoleic acid ~11.8%
eicosanoic acid ~12%
palmitic acid ~10%
erucic acid acid ~4.4%
arachidic acid ~3.4%
stearic acid ~2.9%

The oil is described as being fairly stable and with a high alpha linolenic acid content.

Sounds good. After the oil has been extracted you are left with starches, proteins and a fine mustard flavour.
Of course I don't plan to extract the oil only for food and lighting, its main purpose is lubrication of machines and engines.

On a side note, just pressing the seeds is not enough, the seed actually has to be crushed to efficiently extract the oil.

These seeds, by the way, will be sown again next year on a larger scale;
by july they will be ready.


the vibe of common reed

So, yesterday I went out for a bicycle ride and finally I found what I've been looking for.

Hidden in a wet wasteland at the far end of an abandoned asphalt road (yes, it was being invaded by weeds growing even into asphalt), there it was! A gorgeous stand of phragmites australis AKA the common reed:

To be perfectly honest, at the beginning i doubted it was even phragmites: wounding the stems didn't produce any sugary sap. The stem itself was rather fibrous..
Exactly not the vibe I was expecting to feel, I even thought that could have been some phalaris spp. (totally useless to me) but then a quick check over google confirmed the contact. I dismissed my disappointment and thought those plants were already on an advanced phase of the season :\
I tried pulling one out but the stem broke at the base... hmm probably the rhizome was just beneath but I didn't have time nor equipment to dig and investigate.

Then let's talk about the panicles. They look right what they should look, but on a close examination they were still flowering. Hmm it seems I'll have to wait at least 1-2 months before I can harvest any seeds. Weird..

On a side note, there were quite a few plants growing (and doing acceptably well) on normal moist land: that is unexpected.. If I get it correctly the rhizomes were actually running into the water bodies as I read they could be up to 6-10m long.

Hmm I'm not dismissing phragmites australis, on the PFAF database it has an edibility rating of 5 which is unusual. Therefore I need to evaluate it at other stages of growth.

Now then, on moist land I would grow it for the seeds and because it has a tendency to stabilize and  increase soil depth, but I should be really growing it on wet soil for its rhizomes and delicious sprouts. 
The biomass it produces is pretty high with figures around 40-60 tons/hectare (dry weight? O_O) and it should have a usable sugar content in the stem and roots.
Time will tell.

staple seed crops!

 Say 'seed crops' and the first thing it pops to your mind is a large field of wheat, rice or maize.
Yeah, right. Like if I could grow them extensively without heavy machinery: I'd die of exhaustion in the process and this must not happen.

I'll tell you a story, during the Middle Ages in Europe, right after the fall of the Roman Empire there had been an obscure time of a couple centuries when survivors actually lived almost peacefully and well in the courts, a time when people reverted from classic agriculture to something closer to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and actually everything was going fine.
It was probably during that time when most traditional herbs and root crops had been rediscovered from the old times.

Well, then things stabilized a little, barbaric dominations lasted more than a few days at a time and overlords began pretending taxes again in exchange for not killing or enslaving people. That's where money kicks in again.
Long distance trade displaced barter again, more productive crops had to be grown in more productive ways in order to make the surplus for trading and gaining money for tax. That meant much more labor and much less nutrient crops. Plus, most of the usable land had been grabbed for intensive monocultures. People modified their diet and lived mainly on high energy but otherwise poor cereal crops which lack in essential aminoacids and vitamins.
Poorer food and much more work meant a fast deterioration of living condirtions which ultimately lead to the black death pandemics of 1300's which exterminated between 1/3rd and 2/3rds of the european population and prepared the path for the rise of the great banks and financial institutions which are our nemesys today.

That's why my staple crops won't be annual cereals. They must not be annual cereals because I'd probably be dead soon if I try to make a living out of them.
There simply is too much work involved in growing annual cereals and they won't feed me well too.

Having said that, starches or even inulins if boiled enough are actually needed. Energy is part of a diet, no matter what.

Therefore we need to carefully select what to grow.

The main points are:
- don't grow too many annual species. They need to be sown at the right time and in the proper manner. Too many and you will be swamped by them.
- don't grow too less annual species and of similar families. Diversifying is the point: if one crop fails maybe others will succeed.
- the species must satisfy the usual requisites of EROEI and resistance to pests, diseases, drought and/or damp conditions.
- the species must be as complete as possible in terms of nutrients.

The following species are invariably summer or fall crops and not necessarily they are domesticated since domestication usually causes considerable weakening and loss of genetic diversity.
I am currently evaluating their viability and usefulness and for some of them I've already reached my conclusions:


- chenopodium quinoa: if you are here, you probably already know what chenopodium quinoa is, so I won't bother repeating the usual annoying speech you may find copy-pasted everywhere else. You should rather look it up here, if you want: http://www.pfaf.org .
I held great hopes in quinoa, after reading by chance about this plant I decided to venture into this whole project. Reality however was of a far different opinion.

There's actually a reason why quinoa trials in europe and everywhere else in the past centuries had been held, yet quinoa hasn't been adopted for large scale seed production. The grim answer is that quinoa simply won't do well in a climate that's not dry, pest free, quite cold but not freezing for most of the year and with very strong sunlight. Remove one of these requisites and quinoa is bound to fail.
Here's a ladybug cleaning an already doomed quinoa plant

Even if by chance the climate allows quinoa to deliver, the stinkbugs within a 10km radius will all gather around its seed heads and feast on the seeds in spite of any saponins they might have. Then if you manage to save you plants from all of this it rains for 2-3 days and the best seeds, being absolutely non-dormant will germinate while still on the plant.
As disappointing as it is I'm still willing to select the best plants, who knows what might happen. As a matter of fact, some plants seem to attract many stinkbugs while others are simply being ignored. That's a reason to keep researching on it. Also, if you live in a cooler climate with summers consistently below 30-32 C it might be worth trying it, especially if it doesn't rain too much.

- chenopodium album (lambsquarters / fat hen): this one deserves an article on its own. When you read about quinoa, you always see lambsquartes mentioned: when at young stages they cannot be easily told apart.
C. Album however is what quinoa should have been. Highly resistant to everything: pests, diseases, drought, freezing and very hot spells are no match for this species. It is very competitive and aggressive, always reliable and massively seeding whatever the soil it grows in, it can be found from the artic to the boundaries of deserts with the exception of extreme arctic and desertic climates. In addition to this, its seeds, leaves and flowers are highly nutrient.
This is actually the most successful plant I'm growing, a specialised article will follow. Here's one of the experimental plots

- chenopodium pallidicaule: this is an obscure andrean relative of chenopodium album. It is said to grow on extremly high elevations and is highly tolerant of cold. It might grow during northern hemisphere temperate winters but unfortunately it is described as being intolerant of high humidity. I would like to try it but seeds are very difficult to find.  No picture because I don't have any.

- amaranthus cruentus / hypochondriacus: these are actually two central-american species with similar seed heads, you can't tell them apart unless the plants are mature and seed heads can be closely observed. One of them, A. Cruentus is known to be compatible with the weedy A. Retroflexus and forms hybrids with it (a 10% crossing percentage is usually observed) so A. Cruentus should actually be avoided if you need predictable results and don't want to create new species each year...

They have been tested this year and found to be quite productive, beautiful and drought resistant, however due to their very open shape the seed heads are much vulnerable to shattering and attack from stinkbugs. On another note, they need to be sown at a moderately high density, bigger plants tend to be recumbent, larger and weak if grown on very rich soil

There are four reason to keep growing it:
- it can also grow in moderately cool climates and is very adaptable
- high EROEI
- crossing with A. retroflexus usually creates spiny seed heads with anti-stinkbug features
- it is more drought resistant than A. Caudatus but less than weedy amaranths
- the seeds are very nutrient and complete, moreover diversity is needed

- amaranthus caudatus: this andean species is on its second year of trial and is actually performing very well. It is quite drought resistant and will only suffer during windy dry and very hot days with bright sun. Even so, this is a problem only if there's been a long previous period of drought. To stay on the safe side, you should however provide summer irrigation channels within the rows. The plant is productive, pest resistant (aphids are usually not a problem, preferring other species and the seed heads are usually stinkbug-proof) and disease resistant. To perform best, however it needs not to compete against grasses or its own kind. It can be sown at high density with thinning and this usually stops competition from weeds, an alternative is row sowing with wide rows to allow manual hoeing.  When the plants get large enough the weeds will be quickly shaded.

Main points: the seed is highly nutrient and with a balanced set of aminoacids, this alone is worth growing it. When thinning the seedling leaves are edible and taste pretty good, this is the other major point.

- amaranthus retroflexus: this major weed is the local competitor against amaranthus caudatus, it is more drought resistant that any other amaranth and produces large amounts of delicious leaves. Its black seeds can be used for flour and are abundantly shed, their only inconvenient (precudes many usages) being the shiny black cover which enforces a strong dormancy and allows them to survive for years in the soil.
Being wild in most places it is much more pest resistant than any other andean amaranthus species.
It doesn't need any watering, therefore I suggest growing it as a safety net in case A. caudatus crops fail (something not happened yet). It needs quite a high sowing density if it is to completely displace other weeds. It tends to succumb under chenopodium album if grown  together with it.
Here's a large senescent specimen of amaranthus retroflexus, as you may see its seed production is considerable and will soon be evaluated:

- amaranthus blitum: this is another weed, I'm currently evaluating a few specimens mostly a leaf vegetables although I'm waiting for it to produce seeds as abundantly as the leaves! Time will tell.
Here's a young plant, on a followup article the seed evaluation for larger plants!

- lepidium sativum (garden cress): I suppose there is no need to show pictures of garden cress leaves, so here's the mature crop, let's say it hasn't been plagued by pests or diseases and only required reasonable watering, no other care involved:

This has already been harvested and the yield is pretty good, more than 1 Kg of seeds good for oil or sprouting with a high protein percentage, from the test plot above

Some volunteers already appeared and went fast into flowering, thus suggesting potential for two harvests per year! Note the mature plants are recumbent, although not as badly as it seems.

- phaseolus vulgaris (common beans): last but not least, pole beans. I say pole because they tend to produce for a longer time and are easily harvested even while producing. The variety I'm trying is called 'Trail of tears' and comes from Realseeds, this one has proven pretty disease and pest resistant: as long as the leaves and pods won't get in contact with too much water bean anthracnose is not a problem. I also used a few chenopodium album plants as additional poles and this spells aphis fabae and bean mosaic virus: both haven't been a problem, although present they didn't affect the plants to a dangerous extent. As for other fungal diseases, as long as the plants aren't watered too much and over the leaves they will be safe.
This variety produced extremely well in fertile soil. While some plants died early in intermediate crowded soil, others in rich soil are still going strong and producing.  Other seemingly senescent plants for some reason came back to active life O_o.
This needs some serious selection. Oh, they are quite drought resistant, as most beans are. The best plant in good soil produced almost 1Kg of dried pods.

Other plants in medium to poor soil did much less (10x less, actually). Next year I'll do a large scale trial with beans (more varieties!) and chenopodium album intertwined.


- phragmites australis (common reed): this one, exactly like typha latifolia, looks very promisin as a perennial grass. Most of it is edible o yields edible derivatives, more info here: http://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Phragmites+australis . Actually there seeds here are actually a secondary byproduct of the plant. Unlike annuals this one requires moist or wet soil, especially swamps and water streams and this is its greatest disadvantage, in exchange for the sanitary problem (mosquitoes breeding ground!!) the yields are pretty good and the overall usefulness is very very high. I haven't acquired seeds yet.